Thursday, 7 September 2017

Bipolar Spectrum Disorder Comorbid with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Very few studies have investigated the characteristics of individuals with Bipolar Disorder (BD) comorbid with Autism Spectrum Disorders (Austism, Asperger's Syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder). Both conditions are independently associated with a high degree of morbidity; combined they represent some of the most challenging conditions faced by clinicians, educators and caregivers. Challenges exist not only in differentiating psychiatric symptoms from characteristics of the developmental disorder but also in the identification of effective strategies to help support students diagnosed with these conditions.

Bipolar disorder affects about 1% of children and is characterised by severe mood swings between mania and depression. Some of the symptoms, such as irritability and aggression, are also common in autism. While many large-scale research studies of bipolar disorder exclude ASD patients for methodological reasons, a study in the June issue of the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry suggests that as many as 30% of children diagnosed with BD may also have autism. Other studies have found that as many as 27% of those with autism also have symptoms of bipolar disorder. By contrast, its prevalence in the general population is around 4%.

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are characterised by significant impairment in communication, and social interaction, and are associated with stereotyped, repetitive, and idiosyncratic behaviors, interests, and activities. Psychiatric comorbidity is often present, particularly disruptive behavior disorders and learning disorders.

Frazier et al highlights the difficulty involved in ascertaining the rate of comorbidity between AS and BD since the diagnosis of AS has been used rather indiscriminately, referring to a heterogeneous group, and the actual incidence of pediatric BD is probably underestimated until the definition of bipolarity in children is more fully agreed upon. Another challenge is that BD often begins in childhood or early adolescence with the clinical features of unipolar depression, acute psychosis, or comorbid disorder (e.g., ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic attack, or eating disorder), while manic symptoms appear later. As a consequence, the rate of bipolar diagnosis, can increase with the mean age of studied population. The current classification of mood disorders has poor reliability and validity. It has been suggested that the differential diagnosis between unipolar depression and BD should be based on the lifetime presence of four days of hypomania. Information on mild symptoms overlapping with manifestations of well-being is subject to recall bias, unreliable evaluation, misinterpretation, incoherence. Furthermore, the source of information (patient, relatives, social institutions) can suggest different conclusions. Notwithstanding such gray area, growing evidence suggests that PDD and BD frequently co-occur.

Interestingly, a family history of BD may influence the phenomenology of students with PDD. In students with autism spectrum disorder and a family history of BD, many features of childhood BD have been observed, including affective extremes, cyclicity, obsessive traits, neuro-vegetative disturbances, special abilities, and regression after initial normal development. On the other hand, students with autism spectrum disorder and without a family history of BD showed less florid agitation, fearfulness, and aggression, and were of lower functioning.

The American Psychiatric Association (2000) describe the Criteria for Manic Episodes as a distinct period of an abnormally and persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood, lasting at least one week. While depression can be quite obvious, it can be more challenging to recognise mania in a student with Autism.

Gary Heffner has identified what the Criteria for Manic Episodes may looks like in a student with a comorbid diagnosis of BP and ASD. During periods of mood disturbance, the following criteria may be present to a significant degree:

Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity 
When a student cannot talk or has a communication disorder, it may be hard to identify this symptom. Many children act like they are in charge of the world anyway. What you may see in a student with autism is a marked improvement in the child's usual mood. The student may seem overly happy, silly, or laugh inappropriately or even hysterically. A student who once feared certain situations may show no fear. The student may show irritability rather than a good mood. Behavior may become more aggressive than usual. Tantrums may increase dramatically. The student may act like the rules no longer apply to him or her. The student may act as if he or she has "super powers". The student may say he or she will report others to the principal or to the police, etc.

Decreased need for sleep (e.g., feels rested after only 3 hours of sleep) 
Many children with autism have sleep issues to begin with so this may be a difficult symptom to track. What you may see in a student with autism is that the child may not sleep at all or their normal sleep times are decreased significantly. Alternatively, since sleep is usually a pleasurable activity, the student may sleep too much in the beginning of a manic cycle. Many children and adults with Bipolar Disorder have a "crash" after a manic phase and may not want to get out of bed at that time.

More talkative than usual or pressure to keep talking 
For students who have a communication disorder this symptom would not seem to apply. However, many children and adults with autism and Bipolar Disorder show an increase in their speech and vocalizations during a manic cycle. Many parents report the "good news" that their child is suddenly more verbal only to later report that the child is driving them crazy with the accompanying manic behavior. Children with autism may use more words, talk/vocalize faster than normal, be difficult to stop or interrupt, and/or may talk through the night.

Flight of ideas or subjective experience that thoughts are racing 
The child's interest in activities may increase dramatically. The student will be restless, bombard you with "requests" for activities or other things, and will flit from one activity or thought to another. If the student is verbal he or she may be able to talk about their many conflicting thoughts and interests. Their speech may make no sense, may be a series of unrelated sentences or words, or may be songs or rhymes that have little relation to what is going on. They may be expressed as extreme hyperactivity.

Distractibility (i.e., attention too easily drawn to unimportant or irrelevant external stimuli) 
Attention is too easily drawn to unimportant or irrelevant external stimuli. Many children with autism and ADHD have this symptom already. However, in a manic cycle the distractibility would be more than usual. May focus on unusual aspects of objects that are different from their usual interests.

Increase in goal-directed activity (socially, at work or school, or sexually) 
It may be impossible to redirect ritualistic behaviors. Once the student starts an activity he or she is almost impossible to stop. He/she may repeat activities over and over (with more intensity than usual). The student may masturbate or engage in other sexual activity to an extreme degree.

Excessive involvement in pleasurable activities that have a high potential for painful consequences
Examples involve unrestrained buying sprees, sexual indiscretions, or foolish business investments in an adult context. As above, sexual activity/interest may be taken to the extreme. The child may sleep excessively, self stimulate excessively, eat excessively, toilet excessively, or engage in any other pleasurable behavior with more frequency and intensity.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Changes in Practice: Inputs, Outputs and the Black Box

Input and output refer to the interfaces that different functional units of a system use to communicate among each other, or to the signals sent through those interfaces.  Inputs are the signals received by the unit, and the outputs are the signals sent through it.  The black box is considered to be something whose function is invisible, a space that is hidden, where the transformation takes place (Chauhan, 2013).  In this analogy, I like to think of the black box as my mind, learning, analysing and reflecting on the multitudes of inputs the Mindlab course has exposed me to, transforming my practice and student outcomes as an observable output.   We have been exposed to experiences, professional literature, research, flipped learning initiatives, instructional videos, collaborative webinars, infographics, presentations, a multitude of social media platforms and so much more.  Swain (1985) pointed out that there is no better way to test the extent of one's knowledge than to have to use that knowledge in some productive way, and the intensive nature to use the course to examine and improve our practice has been testament to this. 

What this model does not explicitly show is the fundamental importance that interaction has had on my transformation.  It is through interaction that we have generated comprehensible outputs, which can then also be turned into sources of input for others.  We have sought meaning, clarified misunderstandings, challenged each others thinking and given and received feedback.  It seems fitting at the end of the course to reflect back on the earlier work we did examining the theories of Vygotsky, who theorised that children learn through interpersonal activity, such as play with adults who provide 'scaffholding', whereby they form concepts that would be beyond them if they were acting alone.  In this respect, the notion of the zones of proximal development is important, which are created through interaction with more knowledgeable others.  The co-constructionist nature of the Mindlab course has certainly added testament to this.  The colleagues whom I have shared this experience with have been a shining light and added so much value to my learning.  Friendships have been formed through this network that will enable us to continue to support each others growth and development as we move forward.

Demonstrating commitment to ongoing professional learning and the development of professional personal practice:
My decision to commit to the Mindlab Postgraduate Certificate in Digital and Collaborative Learning was driven by the acceptance of my role as the Director of eLearning.  I wanted to ensure that I had the most comprehensive training available, in order to effectively lead the staff at our school on their journey to include Digital Technologies in their teaching and learning programmes.  I had been in this role for only a couple of weeks when the intake began, and quickly learned to manage the demands of my new position, various other PLD priorities, postgraduate studies, and support the needs of my 8 year old twins at home - that's not to say it was always easy!  I wanted to ensure that my commitment to this course was reflected in my participation, and embraced each aspect of the programme, participating responsively in all professional learning opportunities within the multiple learning communities that were established.  My own professional personal practice has been transformed through this programme, where we were exposed to the latest research and models including the Microsoft ITL rubrics, design thinking model and TPACK model which have all significantly changed the way I present my teaching and learning programmes.

Show leadership that contributes to effective teaching and learning:
Providing effective eLearning leadership in a school requires the school to have an understanding of where they are now and where they want to be in the future.  The global focus of this course has helped me to incorporate these ideas into our school vision and create our eLearning strategic plan and drive a much stronger Digital Citizenship programme for our students, who we want to become confident, connected, actively involved, and lifelong learners (NZC, 2007).  As part of my role, I need to provide a professional learning programme in which teachers feel comfortable to incorporate eLearning in their classrooms, while shifting pedagogy.  The Mindlab course has also given me the confidence to create an eLearning Network for our CoL which is growing rapidly, and has recently expanded into open workshops where teachers from any of our schools are encouraged to come along with questions or areas where they would like support.

Where to next?
My desire to move further into a senior management role remains, where I am able to ensure that every student achieves success - and use digital and collaborative practices to support this.  I really enjoy the elements of my current role that enable me to coach and mentor teachers, working in partnership to challenge and reimagine pedagogy, and was devastated last year to learn that the National Aspiring Principals Programme was to be discontinued.  After much thought I am still undecided if my best option is to complete the last few credits I need to achieve my Masters (in either Educational Leadership or Applied Practice) or to complete the Growing Great Leaders Programme that I have also heard so much about.  Either way, my commitment to education remains as strong as it has even been, and I am excited about the groundswell that is starting to transform education in New Zealand and around the world.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Interdisciplinary Education: From STA to STEAM

Interdisciplinary practice allows individuals to focus on collaboration and participation with others to find solutions to increasingly complex problems occurring in the world today.  When working across disciplines we can draw on multiple perspectives, practices, epistemologies and methodologies to identify how these can be utilised to solve real world problems.

Despite the best efforts of educators and those who support them, our system struggles to meet the challenging need of today's learners.  We need to cope with complex lives, and social, economic and environmental issues.  Now, more than ever, the education system must equip young people to be the problem solvers of the future.  Our students need to become innovators, designers and creators - not just passive consumers.  They need to be able to solve complex problems, often in cross-disciplinary and collaborative settings.  New Zealand's prosperity depends on our ability to compete in a flattened, gobal economy driven by innovation, specialisation and entrepreneurship.  

Interdisciplinary Education has implications for curriculum design and delivery.  Scrutinising the effectiveness of existing structures is important here.  Some parts of the Education Act are barriers to innovation and need to be reviewed, for example covering the length of the school day, hours of instruction, and enrolment and attendance requirements.  If we are serious about supporting learning anywhere and anytime, breaking down institutional boundaries and allowing far greater flexibility to create tailored learning programmes around the needs of learners, then existing systems and structures will need to change.

You will see from my Interdisciplinary Education Popplet, that I am very engaged in cross disciplinary practices.  This has always been an interest of mine, and I struggled moving to a system last year where I no longer had the ability to work in such an integrated way.  While we still have a long way to go towards addressing these barriers at our school, the groundswell is underway, and is being driven from both the top-down and the ground-up.  This year we have changed our timetable to accommodate an interdisciplinary approach to teaching and learning; having integrated our English and Social Science Departments to create an Integrated Literacies team, and our Science, Technology and The Arts Departments to create our new STA team.  While we do include Engineering and Design Thinking in our programme, the 'E' just doesn't fit nicely into our name ... yet!  It is within this team that my teaching of Computer Science falls.  

This alignment is the first stage in a larger move towards STEAM.  The combination of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths is part of a global movement, designed to increase economic competitiveness.  Currently Auckland is facing an employment market shortage in STEM related industries, driving a need for a more skilled workforce.  Initiatives within schools have included:
  • providing mobile devices for students (sometimes in the forms of computer labs, and other times in the form of 1:1)
  • after-school STEM clubs or programs
  • STEM curriculum, where projects using STEM practices are embedded
  • BYOD initiatives (bring your own device)
  • STEM days to encourage hands-on exploration within each of these disciplines
  • robotics programs
However, while STEM initiatives are a wonderful start into the exploration of these four areas of study, the critical process of creativity and innovation is missing.  STEAM is a way to take the benefits of STEM and complete the package by integrating these principles in and through the Arts.  STEAM removes limitations and replaces them with wonder, critique, inquiry, and innovation (SteamPortal).

Andrews (1990) defines interdisciplinary collaboration as occurring “when different professionals, possessing unique knowledge, skills, organisational perspective, and personal attributes, engage in coordinated problem solving for a common purpose” (cited in Berg-Weger & Schneider, 1998).  As a team, we meet regularly to share ideas and show examples of student learning that is happening within our rooms, however we each maintain sole responsibility for our 8 week component of the programme.  At this stage we are investing a lot of time in the intentional connections between the different curriculum areas, aligning and unpacking assessments, the creation of a shared language, processes and strategies, and reflecting on implementation.  Our classrooms are spread across the school, and the programme still runs under a traditional model with one teacher, and students are located in an individual class.  I often dream of an STA ILE similar to those at Glenfield College, Northcross Intermediate and Auckland Normal Intermediate, where the open, shared workplace, qualities/attitudes and common goals have enhances their collaborative, interdisciplinary experience for staff and students alike.

Our schools need to foster innovative teaching and leadership, support leaders to make change and stimulate innovation and nurture new and emerging approaches to teaching and learning.  We need to work to implement a coordinated, system-wide effort to align curriculum, digital technologies, property, infrastructure, funding and legislation within our schools, however this alone will not improve learning.  Students, teachers and leaders must adapt their practices to make best educational use of these investments (Future Focused Learning in Connected Communities)

Reference List:

Berg-Wege, M., & Schneider, F.D. (1998).  Interdisciplinary collaboration in social work education.  Journal of Social Work Education, 34, 97-107.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Professional Online Social Networks

Social Media platforms are part of the wider Web 2.0 landscape, designed to promote collaboration and promote user-generated content as we move away from the mostly read-only Web 1.0 of the past. These applications support asynchronous collaboration; the wildly read-write web that encourages interaction between people through sites such from Facebook to Picassa, and Pintrest to Youtube.  These sites and applications encourage users to move beyond mere posting of content by allowing them to become part of the process through collaboration.  In The Conversation Prism, Solis shares the evolution of popular Social Media applications alongside the transformation they have undertaken within the digital landscape.  This infographic clearly shows how far beyond the commonly known, used and favoured applications Social Media now extends, and alludes to the many different purposes for this development.

The user is central to this model, and like Hoadley's CoP model, Solis asserts that you should only create and manage a presence where it is warranted, finding networks where you can gain or introduce value. This becomes particularly relevant when accessing Social Media for Professional Learning and Development (PLD).  Interestingly this model reflects the principles of the three elements Wagner-Trayner (2011) identified as a requirement for a CoP, with Solis suggesting users consider the 5 pillars for meaningful engagement: Vision, Purpose, Value, Commitment and Transparency.

Although created for business, the desire to 'Always be Improving' through listening, learning and adapting is easily transferable to education, and I believe it is at the core of our role as inquiring educators.  

When I first looked at this topic, my use of Social Media for PLD was very easily identifiable.  I regularly use social networks, blogs, forums, discussion boards, social streams, videos, content/documents, events, podcasts and live-casting as tools to support my passion to improve my practice.  These tools enable me to access personalised PLD that fulfills my needs, at the right time.  This is so much a part of my development as an educator that I have created a dedicated professional identity that is now linked to all of these accounts, is observable in this established blog, links to my own professional site, and is also accessible through my online portfolio. This has created a marketable identity that continues to grow among educators working in the digital space, however, being so connected does come with a warning:  You are never truly away from work.  In her Masters Thesis, Melhuish (2013) suggests that one way to overcome this at a school level might be to integrate self-directed PLD of this nature into legitimate professional learning design rather than adding it on, in an already time-poor context.

Although I teach Computer Science and am surrounded in digital tools everyday, I needed to carefully step back to really examine how I am including Social Media in my classroom.  Merriam-Webster defines Social Media as "forms of electronic communication through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content" which is much more broad than I had originally thought.  When I combined this definition with The Conversation Prism, I came to realise that my students are actually engaging in Social Media on a daily basis - despite not having access at school to social networks such as Facebook, Google+ and Yammer due to their age, and our school policies.

My students regularly post to our class blog, labeling their work so it can be easily identified as an individual student portfolio, use Q&A sites (Wikianswers,, location sharing software (Google Maps), Enterprise applications (Microsoft O365), social curation tools (Pintrest, Google Keep), videos (Youtube, Edpuzzle), social bookmarking tools (Symbaloo), brainstorming content (Popplet, Padlet, Coggle), collaborative documents (O365, Google Docs, Prezi), music, podcasts and images (PiktoChart, Canva, Tagul) to share information, ideas, personal messages and other content.  These tools enable me to engage students in active and constructive learning opportunities where they are required to comment, critique and construct knowledge, while working collaboratively to share emerging understandings.  They can support creativity, collaboration, communication and sharing of resources.  They enable our students to share their learning effortlessly with whanau, and help to extend learning opportunities outside of school hours.  

Social Media sites can offer a range of learning opportunities, involve and draw on the experience of people around the world, and provide students with challenges and opportunities to defend opinions and amend their ideas.  Unfortunately, the same sites can also provide inaccurate information, biased comments and hostile responses (Sharples, de Roock, Ferguson, Gaved, Herodotou, Koh, Kukulska-Hulme, Looi, McAndrew, Rienties, Weller and Wong, 2016).  For many students, learning in groups is not a natural process, and working collaboratively online is even further removed.  We need to support our students to cooperate and develop positive interdependence, by arguing constructively and resolving conflicts while maintaining respect and integrity.

Educators need to be very aware of these challenges, and deliberately teach students the skills they require to navigate these complexities.  I firmly believe that our core responsibility as educators is to prepare students for the world they are entering into.  Our students, as emerging adolescents, are not only moving into a world where Social Networking is rampant; they are already in it.  The vast majority of our students already have Facebook, G+, Instagram and Snapchat accounts - yet by blocking access to these at school, rather than establishing safeguards, the work I do to encourage Digital Citizenship does seem somewhat superficial, lacking genuine context and the ability to provide meaningful feedback.

In such a flooded marketplace, I think it is important to take a step back and remind ourselves that while doing all of this, we need to ensure that we are choosing the right tool for the job - and sometimes the best tool for us is time to interact with the person sitting beside us, unobstructed.  

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Law and Ethics in Professional Practice: Copyright, CC and OER

Do you use information ethically when creating resources for teaching?  Do you know when it is OK to take that perfect resource (image, video, quiz etc) from the internet?  Do you know if you are breaking copyright laws?  Have you ever created a resource for your students and then shared it online?  The above are just a handful of examples that reflect common discussions of educators throughout New Zealand, illustrating just how little teachers know about their legal, ethical and moral responsibilities in this area.

In schools we are surrounded in copyrighted materials including books, searching the internet, working with interactive whiteboards, watching videos and listening to music.  We are copyright consumers (NEN, 2012).  Copyright is a complex subject and here is a guide to what you can and can't do within a school setting.  Just because it is OK to use resources for educational purposes, it is an individual's right not a shared right of the school, and it is time for teachers to develop a more comprehensive understanding of our legal, ethical and moral responsibilities in relation to copyright.

As teachers we have the responsibility to honour the privilege of the high expectations the public rightly have of us when we are entrusted with the education and care of their children and young people.  It is vital that we make conscious ethical decisions, exemplify moral integrity and recognise that our conduct profoundly impacts on our professional image.  We have the responsibility to lift the status of our profession and build on its reputation as we maintain the highest standards of behaviour and professionalism.  A lapse in judgement can adversely impact students, damage teachers' credibility and erode public trust in schools and the profession (Connecticut's Teacher Education and Mentoring Program, 2012).  Advances in technology and greater access to digital resources over recent years mean the challenges educators are likely to encounter have also increased.

Generally, students own the copyright of any original work they create at school regardless of who owns the device it was created on (Netsafe, 2015), however Hutchinson (2017) cautions that primary school students do not create original work as writing it in their own words is not original.  "Many teachers talk to their students about the importance of giving credit for where they find the information but never expect a reference list" showing a real lack of understanding about information and where it comes from.  She argues that no primary school student is going to write something original when researching because this is what you are asking them to do.  This issue is then compounded if that students work is shared in school newsletters, on school websites, class blogs or social media as if nothing is referenced we are breaking copyright laws (Hutchinson, 2017).  I would argue that likewise, it is not alright for students to take pictures and information and not say where they got it form, simply because their work is only going to be displayed on the wall of a classroom.

Another common misunderstanding is that many teachers do not realise they don't own copyright to the resources they produce in the course of their employment.  This is becoming more pressing as teachers look to share resources they have created online, or take them with them when moving to another school.  Any resource you make while in the employment of a school is owned by the BOT and if you leave the school, the BOT of that school retains the ownership.  Some teachers feel this is unfair considering that they make many of these resources at home our of school hours.  This highlights the need for all schools to have clear Intellectual Property policies on the sharing and reuse of resources.  In my experience, educators rarely have the opportunity to openly discuss these issues and it is important that we create the time and space for this to happen.  Creative Commons (CC) and Open Education Resources (OER) have shifted from sitting on the edge of education to now being a mainstream way of sharing and building on our collective knowledge.  But, still many of us just don't have the time to get our head around what's involved and how to bring CC to life in our schools.  Teachers need to work with their BOTs to create a Creative Commons Policy to enable their teachers to legally share their creations with other teachers (a real strength in the New Zealand education system) and avoid unnecessary conflict.

In the interim, the following infographic, created by Shirley Booth (2015) is a helpful guide when deciding what to share online:

Monday, 13 February 2017

Indigenous Knowledge and Cultural Responsiveness: Culture, Ethnicity and Diversity

"If we look at a child's colouring book, before it has any colour added to it, 
we think of the page as blank.  It's actually not blank, it's white.  
That white background is just 'there' and we don't think much about it ... "

Culture forms the base of our world views, beliefs, language, values and identity.  It acts as a filter that helps us to make sense of our world.  It consists of visible or tangible elements such as crafts, music, art and technology, and also the invisible or intangible elements such as our values, beliefs, feelings, opinions, perspectives and assumptions (Irvine, 2010).

When our students come into our classrooms, they bring with them all of their cultural experiences.  This provides a rich foundation for us as educators to build on their prior knowledge, acting as cultural translators to help make appropriate linkages between what the students know and what they need to understand.  However, research has shown Māori and Pasifika students are not doing so well at school due to a number of factors, including how the culture in the classroom is not reflective of the culture known to Māori and Pasifika students (Hunter & Hunter, 2016).

The dilemma lies in the incompatibility between the cultural filters educators use to send messages to students, which are being received through the student's own set of cultural filters.  If these do not match, then learning cannot be effective (Gay 2010).  As educators, we need to explore ways to adapt the sending mechanism, by critically identifying and exploring our own cultural filters. We need to know ourselves, where we come from, and who we are - turangawaewae, as well as the learners we engage with.  We must pull apart what culture is, and what our culture is, to ensure we do not complate it with ethnicity.  This requires some radical re-wiring in the minds of educators about their role and how they relate to their students.

It is important to recognise at this point that students are not mirror representatives of a cultural ethnic group.  Culture is not a trait on their membership in a particular community (Gutierrez, 2010).  They are individual students with their own strengths, interests and needs.  Their attachment/bonds to an ethnic group vary, are are influenced by how long they have been in the country, social class, experiences in the community and neighbourhood.  While there may be commonalities, the Ministry of Education's requirements that we identify, report and adapt specific teaching pedagogies based solely on student ethnicity does provide a dilemma here.

Diversity encompasses many characteristics including ethnicity, socio-economic background, home language, gender, special needs, disability, and giftedness. Teaching needs to be responsive to diversity within ethnic groups, for example, diversity within Pakeha, Māori, Pasifika and Asian students, however we also need to recognise the diversity within individual students influenced by intersections of gender, cultural heritage(s), socio-economic background, and talent (Alton-Lee, 2003). Evidence shows teaching that is responsive to student diversity can have very positive impacts on low and high achievers at the same time, an emphases the importance of quality teaching methods compatible to Maori and built on relational trust.  This is central to the classroom endeavour and should be the focus of quality teaching in Aotearoa, New Zealand, where our culturally diverse groups often struggle to find success in a largely Pakeha education System (Pihama, 2012).

I believe we have an fundamental obligation to ensure our schools reflect all of the cultural experiences of our students, at every level.  At our school we have recently reviewed our vision.  As a staff we shared a number of ideas, ranging from acrostic poems reflecting our school name, listing the key skills and values we believed to be important (similar to a graduate profile), through to ideas that reflected our schools logo and the meaning of Te Atatu: The dawn - such as 'Rising to Success'.  Armed with these ideas, we facilitated a community day where members of our SLT, selected student representatives from our Leadership Academy, whanau and our BOT were invited to come and share their thoughts.  It was a great day, but what impressed me the most was how the vision transformed after the different cultural lenses we each had were applied.  We emerged with a very different vision which I believe much better reflects our diverse community and shared aspirations for our students: 

Working Together - Mahi Tahi, 
Learning Together - Ako Tahi, 
Growing Together - Tupu Tahi.

This new, inspiring vision, is transforming the way that learning looks within our school.  It is such a dramatic move from our previous vision - 'Wisdom with Truth' that there is a sense among the staff that it has brought with it permission to transform how learning looks and how students work within our school.  The signage within our school is changing to reflect the cultural diversity represented in our school, and our PB4L resources have also been redesigned to reflect the different languages spoken within our school.  Our unit themes have also changed dramatically, from contexts such as 'Careers' and 'Flight' to Turangawaewae and Whanaungatanga.  This vision encourages teachers to research and explore culturally-based examples and contexts that reflect the lives of our students and inquire into practices that are underpinned by a strong awareness of indigenous cultural values, which is being supported through school-wide PLD.

In my own practice, I aspire to create to a place where:

  • Teachers are aware of the students different cultural identities.
  • Students cultural contexts are incorporated into teaching and learning environments and programmes.
  • Teachers provide practical opportunities for all students to be proud and share their languages and cultures through cultural groups, special events and school festivals that celebrate cultural difference.
  • Students experience learning contexts from multiple cultures.
  • There are clear expectations in schools' charters for celebration of diversity, stating the right for all children to feel culturally safe.
  • Staff are representative of many cultures and reflect the diversity of our student populations.

As a school, we are not there yet, but great things come from small beginnings.  I aspire for our school to become He wahi tutaki mo nga tamariki o te ao - A meeting place for the children of the world, where each student genuinely feels like they belong - Manakitanga, and are supported and accepted Whanaungatanga, for who they are, the experiences they bring and knowledge they are able to share.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Contemporary Issue or Trend: Student Mobility and School Choice

Each year, parents around the world face a similar conundrum: Should their child attend the school around the corner or opt to travel away from home each day to a school outside of their local community?  As a parent, I too have had to make this decision. For some, the choice is limited by income or geography while for others the allure of top academic results, an all-conquering rugby team, or the proximity from poverty helps dictate the decision.  

Choosing a school is one of the key times when parents reflect on what is important to them in terms of their child's education.  While the Ministry of Education has now stopped the publishing of school decile ratings (established in the mid 1990s to facilitate more systematic and objective decisions about fair funding to all state schools), there is still a lot to consider: Public or private school, single sex or co-educational, full primary or separate intermediate/middle school, school zone regulations, school culture and reputation, quality teaching and learning programmes, subject choices (and how well they are resourced), class sizes, the provision of extra curricular activities,  access to technology, school fees/donations/uniform/stationary costs to name just a few.  

The factors that influence parental choice of school have been well documented.  I have found the following research papers helpful:
  • Karen Wespieser examines some of these priorities in her report: How do parents choose a school for their child after interviewing over 1,000 parents of students aged between 5-18.  
  • Caroline McEnvoy has also examined the factors that influence parental choice of school in her dissertation published in 2003, and I would argue that not many of these factors would have changed since then.
  • Peter Morey provides an Australian perspective in his Research titled School Choice: What parents choose 
  • Matt McFadden provides an alternative perspective and looks into the roll that marketing has on school choice 
As mentioned in my previous post, one of the big problems for many residents across West Auckland is education.  Few of the schools have an outstanding reputation and thousands of parents choose to send their children out of the area for schooling (Prasad, 2011).  This is supported by the Ministry of Education figures that highlight that over one third of our West Auckland students went outside the area for their education in 2010 to schools perceived to be successful or fashionable.  We are blessed that our school continues to be the school of choice for families in the wider West Auckland area (ERO, 2011), with almost 40% of our students coming from outside of our school zone, however we also have a large number of in-zone students who choose to attend schools outside of the area.

The OECD Trends Shaping Education 2016 Report acknowledges the mobility of students' and their families is driven by the search for a better life and increased opportunities.  Increasingly affordable and accessible methods of transportation are just one of a number of factors influencing this trend.  Toby Morris explores some of these issues in this confronting comic.

Waipareira Trust Chief Executive, John Tamihere, says it's natural for parents to send their children wherever they can get the best education, and those parents that can afford to offer their children better opportunities will endeavour to do so.  He acknowledges that west Auckland schools are limited by the area's socio-economic situation with many schools in our area being decile four or below.  He adds, sadly, "For the most part, Waitakere has a lot of hard working people who aren't necessarily making a lot of money and that socio-economic factor will take a long time to change." (Prasad, 2011)

The Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds Report predicts that between now and 2030 individual empowerment will accelerate substantially due to poverty reduction and a huge growth of the global middle class.  This is fundamentally important as for the first time, a majority of the world's population will not be impoverished.  While most new members of the middle class in 2030 will be at the lower end of the spectrum, the growth in the number of those living in the top half of the range of this new middle class will be substantial, rising from 330 million in 2010 to 679 million in 2030.  Much of the future global leadership is likely to come from this segment.

The increasing cultural and linguistic diversity that emerges out of these mobility trends, has a strong impact on our schools and classrooms, which need to prepare students for a global life.  Emphasing multiculturalism and implementing a responsive and rich curriculum for students of different backgrounds will continue to be a priority within school systems.  Lifelong learning is also an important component to keeping our societies abreast of the new challenges and opportunities that arise from an increasingly mobile world.

However, I feel it is also important to acknowledge that not all families will be able to take advantage of choice, whether because of family circumstances or limits on the capacity of schools to accept new students.  School policies are predicated on the assumption that parents have enough information to make informed decisions on where to send their children.  School choice policies also assume that students have the means to get to their desired school, however many families do not have the flexibility to drive children across the city, or schools do not provide a bus service.  Research also suggests that many parents prefer to send their children to their local school and that they would rather have higher-quality local schools than the option to send their children to high quality schools elsewhere.

Reflective Questions for Discussion:

  • Should parents be free to send their children to any school of their choice, regardless of where they live?
  • Do students who have been educated outside of their local community (or country) have a responsibility to return to work in their community (or country) in order to transfer that knowledge back to their peers?
  • How can schools better prepare for the inflow of students from various backgrounds, socio-economic classes and cultures?
  • What responsibility do schools have in communicating and teaching the values of society?